Friday, June 18, 2010
Ramirez gets cheers during pregame
By Tony Jackson
BOSTON -- Manny Ramirez walked into the tiny visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park at 4:07 p.m. local time Friday -- presumably the first time he had done so since his final season with the Cleveland Indians, which was 10 years ago -- and found a throng of about 30 reporters waiting for him, all of them knowing they probably were wasting their time.
The Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder hasn't given a formal interview since returning from a spring training trip to Taiwan, and that probably wasn't going to change just because he was returning to the city where he spent almost eight seasons and contributed to a pair of World Series titles.
Before any of the real reporters could approach him, a phony one did. Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, holding his blue batting-practice bat like a microphone, immediately stuck it into Ramirez's face and said, "How does it feel to be back in Boston?"
Ramirez gave Kemp about as much time as he was going to give anyone. After Kemp returned to the other side of the clubhouse, which was about seven feet away, he yelled at the assembled media, "Manny smells good today. If y'all get close enough, you can smell him."
One of them finally did get close enough after Ramirez had changed from his street clothes into his official Dodgers workout apparel. Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes approached him and politely requested an interview in Spanish. Ramirez politely declined, Ronnie Belliard telling Rojas he would be happy to serve as Ramirez's official spokesman and interview stand-in but laughing as he said it because even Belliard knew that on this unusual and circus-like day, no one wanted to hear from a utility infielder with a .256 average.
Eventually, Ramirez disappeared into an area of the clubhouse that was off-limits to media. He wouldn't be seen again until he came into the dugout for batting practice, carrying three bats and two gloves, one of which was red, white and blue, and with the back left pocket of his uniform pants hanging out.
Shortly thereafter, in a media scrum that was almost as large as the one Ramirez would have had if he had chosen to engage it, Dodgers manager Joe Torre gave his usual rehearsed response when asked for the umpteenth time this week what kind of reception he thought Ramirez might receive from the Fenway faithful, the one about how he hoped those fans would appreciate what Ramirez helped the Red Sox do during his time with them.
A half-hour or so later, Ramirez stepped into the batting cage for the first time at 5:40, and the answer everyone had been waiting for finally came. It can't be definitively stated that he wasn't booed at all, but the cheers he received were loud enough to drown out any catcalls that might have been directed his way.
When Ramirez stepped out of the cage after taking his first allotment of hacks, he received another loud cheer. Kemp, who had followed Ramirez into the cage, who had his right back pocket hanging out of his uniform pants and who, like Ramirez, was helmetless, stopped after one swing and turned to wave an acknowledgement to the crowd, feigning as if he thought the ovation was for him.
Game time was still more than an hour away, and so was the arrival of most of the crowd. As such, there still was no way to predict what Ramirez would hear when he actually stepped into the batter's box as the Dodgers designated hitter for the first time in either the first or second inning -- he was batting fourth -- against rookie Felix Doubront, who was scheduled to make his first major league start for the Boston Red Sox.
But the three-day, three-ring circus was officially under way. And while it was anything but a normal pregame routine, it seemed to be a perfectly comfortable fit for Ramirez.
Trade efforts increase
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said before the game that his effort to trade for an additional starting pitcher has intensified in recent days and has reached a point of trying to zero in on specific individuals. However, Colletti said no such trade is imminent, and he seemed to believe that if he does eventually make a deal, he will need most and perhaps even all of the six remaining weeks before the non-waiver trading deadline.
"The conversations have picked up a little bit, but nothing is really hot," Colletti said. "If a team is holding onto a pitcher until they can get value back for him, that value [the other club is seeking] isn't going to go down as it continues to get later."
The most prominent names of pitchers who figure to become available in the coming weeks are Houston right-hander Roy Oswalt and Seattle lefty Cliff Lee.
Oswalt has a year plus an option left on his contract, as well as about $25 million in guaranteed money. Lee would seem to be a better fit because he is owed only about $5 million for the rest of the season, after which his current contract will expire. But the big sticking point there will be which players the Mariners want in return for Lee.
Kemp bats leadoff
Kemp batted leadoff for the first time this season Friday night, becoming the second player in two games to do so after regular leadoff man Rafael Furcal was put on the bereavement list and returned to the Dominican Republic to be with an ill family member.
At first glance, Kemp would seem to be curious choice to bat first, not only because he has middle-of-the-order power but mostly because he is hitting only .254, has a .324 on-base percentage and has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of almost 3:1. But Torre says he likes what he has seen of Kemp at the plate in recent days.
Torre also said he didn't expect Kemp to suddenly start being selective just because he is batting leadoff for one game.
"I just want him to be who he is," Torre said. "It just looks like he is thinking more toward [hitting up] the middle the last couple of days. But I can't guarantee anything with this wall sitting here."
Torre was referring, of course, to Fenway's famed Green Monster in left, which is so tantalizing to right-handed hitters that they often fall into the bad habit here of trying to pull the ball to left.
Furcal back Tuesday?
By the way, Torre said Furcal won't join the team until at least Tuesday, when the Dodgers open a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.